Formula 51 (released last year in England as The 51st State) brought to mind a phrase from U.S. constitutional law: “utterly without redeeming social importance.”
Although the Supreme Court used the phrase to define obscenity and pornography, it could as easily have been referring to gratuitously violent movies like this one.
Deal Those Drugs
R for drugs, language, graphic violence
Samuel L. Jackson plays Elmo McElroy, who develops a new drug called POS-51 that combines the power of hallucinogens, cocaine, and ecstasy.
Crime boss “The Lizard” (Meat Loaf) shows up for the first batch of 51, but Elmo has set a trap for him and his men. All hands are lost in a gigantic fireball, except, inexplicably, The Lizard himself. The Lizard sends his best assassin Dakota Parker (Emily Mortimer) after Elmo.
Without a reliable buyer in the states, Elmo takes his secret formula to England. He meets Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle), a driver for the hemorrhoidal British drug kingpin who, with his crew, is gunned down as soon as he’s introduced to the audience.
Now Elmo needs to find a new sucker to buy his superdrug, plus he has Felix as an annoying sidekick. He finds a potential buyer in Iki (Rhys Ifans), who plans to sell POS-51 to British ravers. Elmo has only to survive long enough to collect his money.
No Redeeming Social Importance
Formula 51 stands in stark contrast to the film it tries to emulate, Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction’s mix of violence and humor contained literary and artistic merit. Its British stepchildren Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch both had some sense of style and hipness. But Formula 51 only offers a disgusting spatter of goo on the theater screen, utterly without redeeming social importance.
Formula 51 is an excuse for explosions, gunshots, blood, guts, and literally explosive diarrhea. Its attempts at humor, such as “accidental” murders, only make the carnage more horrible.
Pulp Fiction (et al.) struck a delicate balance between violence and humor, and copycats need to be careful. Getting the mix just a little bit wrong ruins the whole thing, which is exactly what happened here.
More Reasons to Avoid
The flaws in Formula 51, are not limited to the pointless violence. There are also gaping holes in the script. For example:
- Four police cars looking for a maroon Jaguar XJ6 casually drive past their target, despite a broken front bumper and headlights.
- The junk dealer trades the smashed-up XJ6 for his working mini cooper, then drops the XJ6 in the crusher. What’s he going to drive home?
- If Elmo’s drug really is “51 times” more potent than cocaine, ecstasy, and acid, wouldn’t it kill you? Why do the people he’s selling to fail to ask him this question?
- Elmo’s drug is revealed to be a placebo. The revelation seems to be an attempt to humanize Elmo, to make him less of an immoral character. But the trail of destruction is so huge that nothing can save him.
- A title card at the end says nobody knows why Elmo wore a kilt, or what became of him. But 20 seconds later, the film answers both of these questions. Why not take out either the title card or the expository scene?
If I still haven’t convinced you not to buy a ticket, then take the movie’s own word for it. The song that plays over the end credits is very telling. The lyrics speak of a world that Formula 51 would desperately like to inhabit. The refrain goes like this:
“Everything good is bad, everything bad is good.”